Why Does My Cat Keep Pooping Outside the Litter Box?

Has your cat been leaving smelly surprises around your home? Are you cleaning up messes in the corner of the room or even your bed? If your cat has started pooping where they shouldn’t, it can be frustrating, not to mention unhygienic. But don’t worry – there are ways to get your kitty back to using the litter box consistently.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover the top reasons your cat may be pooping outside the litter box and offer tips to solve the problem for good.

Common Reasons Cats Poop Outside the Litter Box

There are many possible causes for improper elimination by cats. By understanding the specific reason behind your cat’s behavior, you can better tackle the root of the issue. Here are some of the most common causes of inappropriate pooping:

Medical Conditions

Various medical conditions can prompt a cat to poop outside the litter box. These include:

  • Diarrhea or constipation – Any issues with the colon and digestion can cause litter box avoidance. Cats don’t want to associate pain with using the box.
  • Urinary tract infections – Infections and inflammation make urination painful. This can cause cats to associate the litter box with discomfort.
  • Anal gland issues – Blocked or infected anal glands may lead to litter box avoidance.
  • Arthritis or injury – Sore joints or muscles may make it difficult for cats to climb in and out of litter boxes.
  • Dementia in senior cats – Elderly cats with cognitive decline may forget proper litter box habits.

The first step is always to rule out medical issues by scheduling a vet exam. Treating any underlying conditions can often get kitty back to regular litter box use.

Litter Box Problems

Sometimes the source of the problem is the litter box itself. Cats may refuse to use the litter box if:

  • The box is not clean enough – Scoop feces at least once a day.
  • The litter box is too small – Upgrade to a larger, roomier box.
  • Litter box location – Place it in a quiet, low-traffic area.
  • Too few litter boxes – Have at least one per cat, plus an extra.

Make the litter box as appealing as possible by keeping it immaculately clean, opting for a large box, and placing it in an area that offers privacy and comfort.

Litter Issues

Just as litter box problems can drive cats away, so can the litter itself. Possible litter-related reasons your cat won’t use the box include:

  • Dislikes texture – Try different types of litter to find one your cat likes.
  • Scented litter – Stick to unscented clumping litter which cats prefer.
  • Depth of litter is too low – Maintain at least 3 inches of litter in the box.
  • Litter is not absorbent enough – Switch to a clumping litter made for odor control.

Experiment with different unscented clumping litters of various textures to determine your cat’s preferences. Maintain proper litter depth, and scoop solids out daily.

Stress Triggers

Cats are easily stressed by changes in their environment and routine. Stress can manifest as litter box issues. Common causes of feline stress include:

  • New people in the home – Introduce visitors slowly.
  • New pets – Slowly acquaint cats with new animals.
  • Changes in routine – Gradually transition cats to schedule changes.
  • Household changes – Update décor slowly, keeping their “safe spaces.”
  • Loud noises – Provide hiding spots for scared cats.

Use calming aids like Feliway diffusers to help anxious cats in times of transition and avoid sudden disruptions to their daily routine.

Territorial Marking

Some litter box avoidance is territorial in nature. This occurs when:

  • Unneutered males spray urine and feces – Get male cats fixed to reduce marking.
  • Competition with other household pets – Add more litter boxes to ease tension.
  • Feeling threatened by outdoor cats – Deter other cats and keep yours inside.
  • Introduction of new cat – Go slow when adding a new pet to the home.

Spaying or neutering, adding more litter boxes, and easing multi-cat tensions can reduce territorial marking behaviors.

How to Stop Your Cat from Pooping Outside the Litter Box

Now that you know the potential causes, here are the top techniques to solve your cat’s litter box problems:

Rule Out Medical Issues

The first step is always a trip to the veterinarian. Have your cat undergo a full exam, urinalysis, and testing for gastrointestinal issues. Get prompt treatment for any medical conditions contributing to litter box problems. Your vet can also check for arthritis pain and other mobility issues.

Clean the Litter Box More Frequently

Scoop feces out of the litter box at least once daily. Empty the litter, wash the box with soap and warm water, and refill with fresh litter weekly. Never use harsh chemical cleaners, as residue may deter your cat from using the box.

Cleaning the box at least daily removes odor and waste buildup that can drive cats away. Proper cleaning is the easiest fix for many cats pooping outside the box.

Use the Right Litter

Your cat may be avoiding the litter box due to the texture or scent of the litter. The best options are:

  • Non-scented, clumping clay litter – This provides odor control while allowing cats to dig and cover.
  • Fine-grained clumping litters like Dr. Elsey’s Ultra or Fresh Step
  • Natural paper, corn, or pine pellets can work for some cats

Avoid scented, crystalline, or dusty litters which often deter cats. Test out a few different types to find one your cat likes.

Add More Litter Boxes

The general rule is one litter box per cat, plus an extra. Try placing boxes in different rooms, on each level of your home. Multiple boxes prevent conflicts with other pets and provide backup when one box is dirty.

Adding more litter boxes also accommodates fussy cats who prefer pooping in one box and peeing in another. More boxes equal more options for your cat.

Use Larger Litter Boxes

Today’s oversized, jumbo litter boxes provide ample room for cats to dig, turn, and cover waste. Look for boxes with low entry points to accommodate senior cats and kittens. Add bigger boxes in problem areas for cats to “test out.”

Bigger is better when it comes to litter boxes. Spacious boxes feel more appealing and private to do their business.

Place Litter Boxes Strategically

Place litter boxes in quiet, low-traffic areas of your home. Set boxes in corners or closets, not high-activity rooms. Avoid areas near noisy appliances and close to doors. Keep the box away from their food and water bowls.

Optimal locations offer privacy and noise reduction. Placing boxes in calm, comfortable spots encourages regular litter box use.

Try Litter Box Attractants

Litter box attractants like Cat Attract by Dr. Elsey’s use herbs and natural scents to lure cats back into the box. The scents spark their natural instinct to eliminate in soft, earthy-smelling material.

You can sprinkle attractants directly into the litter or place the scented granules in a separate dish inside the box. As cats re-connect with using the litter, you can phase out the attractants.

Use Calming Aids and Diffusers

For stress-prone cats, calming aids can help ease the anxiety causing litter box avoidance. Options include:

  • Feliway – These synthetic pheromone diffusers help relieve stress.
  • Calming treats and supplements
  • Anxiety-reducing medications from your veterinarian

Calming aids reduce environmental stressors that may prompt your cat to stop using the litter box properly. Consult your vet on appropriate supplements and medications.

Deep Clean Soiled Areas

Once you’ve removed the source of the problem, do a deep clean of any soiled areas. Use an enzyme-based pet cleaner to remove stains and odor on floors, walls, and furniture.

For fabrics, steam clean cushions and carpets to sanitize and deodorize. This removes all traces of scent triggers that may attract your cat back to the same spots. Thorough cleaning provides a fresh start.

Temporarily Confine Your Cat

If your cat continues pooping outside the litter box, temporarily confine them to a single room with food, water, toys, scratching post, and litter box. Use baby gates, closed doors, or pet gates to restrict access.

This re-sets the habit of using the litter box rather than soiled areas. Continue confinement until your cat resumes regularly using the box. Slowly allow access to more rooms again.

Use Deterrents

For stubborn cats that re-soil areas, use deterrents like double-sided sticky tape, aluminum foil, or plastic carpet runners placed upside down. The sticky texture and crunchy noise can discourage cats from returning.

Try placing citrus-scented cotton balls or using repellent sprays around problem areas. Deterrents interrupt the pattern while you determine the underlying cause. Avoid punishment, yelling, or finger pointing, which can worsen anxiety.

Consult Your Veterinarian

If litter box problems continue despite all efforts, consult your veterinarian again. Ask about anti-anxiety medications in extreme cases of litter box avoidance.

Also discuss cognitive dysfunction in senior cats which may require medication. Your vet can pinpoint additional medical issues causing elimination problems. Partnering with your vet provides the best chance of success.

When to Seek Professional Help

Solving cat pooping issues takes patience. However, if you’ve tried all the suggested tips with no improvement, seek help from a cat behavior specialist. A certified expert can assess your cat and situation to devise customized training protocols.

Also reach out to a behaviorist if your cat is exhibiting aggressiveness, has completely abandoned using the litter box, or is eliminating in multiple areas of your home daily. These cases require more intensive behavior modification plans.

Working under veterinary guidance, a cat behavior expert will implement techniques like:

  • Cat calming supplements and medications
  • Desensitization to litter textures
  • Positive reinforcement training
  • Litter box re-training from scratch
  • Anti-anxiety techniques like conditioning and counter-conditioning
  • Synthetic facial pheromones to induce calmness

With their deep knowledge of cat psychology and responses, a qualified pet behavior consultant can help re-shape habits and address the root cause of pooping outside the litter box. They provide guidance tailored to your unique situation for long-term success.

Tips to Prevent Future Litter Box Problems

Once your cat is reliably using the litter box again, keep things on track with these litter box tips:

  • Scoop the box daily, dump litter weekly
  • Provide one more box per cat than you have cats
  • Clean boxes with soap and hot water only
  • Position boxes in quiet, low-traffic areas
  • Don’t ambush cats – give them plenty of hiding spots
  • Avoid loud noises like vacuums that startle cats
  • Stick to a consistent feeding and play schedule
  • Limit loud visitors to the home
  • Use Feliway diffusers when introducing new pets
  • Clean soiled areas immediately with enzymatic cleaner
  • Limit cats’ view of outdoor animals
  • Keep cats indoors to reduce territorial marking
  • Clean boxes more frequently during stressful events like moving

Staying vigilant with litter box maintenance, reducing stress triggers, and reinforcing training will prevent repeat incidents of cats pooping in unacceptable places. Be patient, remain calm, and partner with your veterinarian to get kitty back on track. With consistency and care, your cat’s litter box habits will improve for good.